VENTURES AFRICA – A great lesson for any young entrepreneur figuring out how to make it – turning the idea into a business and ensuring the sustainability of that business. But firstly, taking yourself and that idea seriously.
29 year old Nigerian, Gbolohan Fagbure knows what it takes to launch a successful business, and has used his corporate consulting experience to launch two successful businesses: Vartis Strategic Partners, a business advisory and event production firm and Road Repair Company, a road maintenance company that specializes in repairing potholes and minor road defects. When first launching his company, Fabgure found success by taking himself seriously so that others would take him seriously as well.
When approaching business he changed his view on an age-old problem. Anyone driving through Lagos knows that potholes can be a major problem for drivers. During rainy season they make it potentially dangerous for drivers and pedestrians and can cause expensive damage to cars. Fagbure realized that with the rapid infrastructure needs of the city there weren’t enough resources for the Lagos government to keep up with. That results in many private companies using road repair as a key component of their corporate social responsibility programs. But what does a technology company or bank know about fixing roads and this is where Fagbure found his opportunity.
When he realised this was a problem he then did his research, an important first step for any young entrepreneur. Many young people hoping to start a business first think of a product and try to figure out how to get people to care about it instead of identifying a need that customers have and how they can develop a strategy to help fill customers needs. Fagbure went to the internet and worked to understand what has worked before in other markets. Instead of solely using what he had seen before he wanted to learn about best practices used in the UK, US, and Australia.
“I was first interested in buying heavy duty machines but then realszed that I didn’t need to do that,” says Fagbure. He discovered an innovative product that simplifies the road repair process and cuts the pothole repair process from shutting down a road for a couple of days to filling a pothole in 15-20 minutes. By finding this new process he was able to save himself thousands of dollars in capital costs and helped him distinguish his company and product for potential consumers.
The next step for this ambitious young man was to figure out how to get this product from the UK and into his hands in Nigeria. He did not have any relationships in this industry and was a brand new face for every person he reached out to. For Fagbure this is where his research and preparation helped him develop relationships and jumpstart his company. He found a company that created the product he was looking for and already had a distributor for Nigeria.
When asked how he was able to secure these meetings Fagbure described his preparation as key to being taken seriously. He commented that, “It is easy to tell who has a viable business plan and who just printed up some cards and letterhead. I identified a problem with potholes on roads and who was repairing the roads and identified another market segment that this company wasn’t addressing so I was able to help them make more money as well,” he says.
When asked what other young entrepreneurs can do to ensure that they are taken seriously when starting a company he had this advice:
- Dress like you are doing business. Just because you aren’t going to someone else’s office, doesn’t mean you aren’t doing serious work.
- Wherever I go, I always have business cards. You never know when there is a market opportunity.
- Send professional proposals from your work email not ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’
- Sound credible. Do your research. Know your numbers and what is your target market. You should be able to answer any question about your business.
- If you are just starting your business and people only see you at the club spending money, they may question your priorities especially if you are asking for investment from others. Show people that you are investing everything; your time and money so they know you are serious.
For Fagbure he believes his age was not a hindrance to his business. He states that “as long as you are respectful, make sense, and talk business then people will be responsive.”
You too can turn that idea into a business when you start taking yourself seriously. Remember, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained…”